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Back to the 9 to 5

Back to the 9 to 5

“Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen Pour myself a cup of ambition Yawn and stretch and try to come to life Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin’ Out on the street the traffic starts jumpin’ With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5.”1

Life has been anything but ‘9 to 5’ during coronavirus.

Many of us may only tumble out of bed much later than we usually do, stay in our PJs and shower after midday, and there has been no real traffic to speak of.

But as we transition out of the ‘lockdown life’ of COVID-19, will our work life go back to the same humdrum of a Monday-to-Friday routine and, if it does, what will it look like and how will we cope?

At the time of writing this article, Queenslanders have just received the news that within the week we will be able to travel up to 50km from our home, picnic with family (never before has one been so excited about a family picnic!) and shop for clothes and shoes (there is an argument that shopping for shoes is an ‘essential outing’). Below I share some ideas around what work life may look like, as we continue to live with COVID-19, and how to navigate that.

Simply the best

I suggest we take the best parts of the work life that was thrust upon us during COVID-19 and identify what lessons we learned and try continuing those practices.

For employees: If working from home meant that you could have breakfast with your children and spend a bit more time with them in the morning, or get home early to enjoy a walk before it gets dark, then speak to your employers to see if a more flexible work arrangement can continue.

For employers: If you had staff who were not very tech savvy and the sudden change that COVID-19 brought with it meant they had to quickly get up to speed on their IT skills and use of technology, then see if you can encourage and support those staff in continuing to learn those skills. It is a great chance to identify new (and better) ways of running the office and do away with systems and procedures that may now be redundant.

Everyone should also reflect on what practices were implemented during the pandemic to keep staff connected and supported, and see how those can be harnessed to ensure team spirit and firm culture remain stronger than ever as we embark on our world as we begin to emerge from ‘under the doona’ of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changes

The gravity and enormity of what we have (and will continue) to face arising from the pandemic has been a stark reminder that ‘the only constant is change’. No one can predict what changes the coming weeks and months may bring, and we all need to be prepared for more change.

For employees: You are not alone in feeling vulnerable about what the work changes may be and how you will cope with them. Speak with your employer about what your home life may look since COVID-19 arrived and see if your work arrangements can accommodate those ongoing changes (these may be caring for children or elderly relatives, different parenting arrangements). Be mindful that even the current arrangements may be transient in nature, so you will need to have ongoing discussions with your employer about this.

For employers: Communication with staff will be more important than ever, and you should try to understand how your staff might have been affected by COVID-19. Different areas of firms (and areas of legal practice) may be affected differently. It can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, nor can it be viewed that there will only be a finite number of changes; this may be an organic and evolving situation for some time, and you should put regular reviews and updates in place to monitor this.

The office dynamics will be different when we first return, with ‘work-from-home life’ having provided many with autonomy that they have never had before. Some may find the return to the office much needed and welcomed; others may find it harder to get back into the groove of life in the office.

Everyone will have unique stresses and responsibilities arising from COVID-19. No government announcement will magically alleviate the mindful process that should happen in moving into our anything but normal world, that life will now offer. We need to figure out, together, what life can look like in community, in work, and at home – this will be a changing landscape.

Lean on QLS

QLS has been pivotal in keeping the legal community up to date with changes, supporting us with our challenges, and assisting and encouraging us to reach out during this time. That offer of support and guidance continues to be provided in several ways:

  1. QLS has offered a most generous support package to members, consisting of membership, practising certificate and indemnity insurance premium subsidies.
  2. QLS has not only extended the CPD year to 30 June 2020 to give solicitors extra time to complete their required units, but it is producing free CPD ondemand content.
  3. QLS is offering members, via the Ethics and Practice Centre, free employment law advice of up to two hours from experts. This is designed to help members with employment law issues arising from the impact of COVID-19 and support small practices which need advice on how they can best manage their staff during the pandemic.
  4. QLS is now offering a General Manager Support Service (GMSS) with up to two hours of free advice to help members with general practice management issues arising from the impact of COVID-19. For example, how to pivot the practice, manage your budget or any other commitments, including loss of cash flow and restructuring teams/personnel.
  5. QLS has established a Government Financial Assistance Service (GFAS), providing members with up to three hours of free advice, designed to help members in accessing government support due to COVID-19, by guiding them through the different (State Government and Federal Government) support offerings, help members understand what is available to them for their particular situation, and finally guide members on how to access assistance and lodge any necessary applications.
  6. QLS has expanded the LawCare initiative, to include amongst its services, Money Assist, where members are suffering as a result of financial stressors.

For up-to-date information, please visit QLS online:

Whatever hours you may be working, and wherever you may be working from either now or in the future, there is no doubt that we can all harness lessons, skills, and experiences which we have learned from our work life during the COVID-19 pandemic and carry those forward with us.

As the legal profession, we still all have a desire to practise good law. If we continue to be kind to ourselves and others as we tread lightly on the road out of this pandemic, we can feel united as a community. Like Dolly said, our working life is all about “folks like me on the job from nine to five”.

Joelene Nel practises as a family lawyer and mediator, and is Associate Director at McLaughlins Lawyers on the Gold Coast. Joelene is an active member of the Gold Coast District Law Association and a member of the Queensland Law Society Wellbeing Working Group. Inquiries about the Wellbeing Working Group can be directed to r.niebler@qls.com.au.

Footnote:
1 The title song of the film 9 to 5, written and sung by Dolly Parton.

This story was originally published in Proctor June 2020.

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